10th Session of the Minority Forum – Is There Space for Minorities in the International Arena?

The United Nations (UN) held the 10th session of the Forum on Minority Issues (FMI) on 30 November and 1 December 2017. This conference welcomed organisations from across the world as representatives of their respective minority communities to provide them with a platform to express their concerns and recommendations to the international community. The topic of this year’s forum was minority youth, which provided an opportunity for civil society, international organisations and State actors to engage in discussions on issues such as inclusive education, the participation of youth in public life, acceptance and opportunity represented by media for youth in the digital age and youth as agents of change for peace and stability. The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) participated in this year’s forum and Program Director Tommaso Nodari took the floor to emphasise the impediments created for minority youth amongst the suppression of their culture and language.

UNPO was joined by a number of its Members who raised the issues their communities encounter at this year’s forum.  Speakers of the Ahwazi-Arabs, Afrikaners, Assyrians, Baloch, Bretons, Crimean Tatars, Kabyls, Kurds, Madheshi, Ogadeni, Ogoni, Savosians, Southern Mongolians, Triestini, Uyghurs and West Papuans brought up the many challenges faced by their minorities.

Restrictions Faced by Representatives of UNPO Members

Mr Enghebatu Togochog, director of the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center (SMHRIC), spoke to the discrimination endured by Mongolian youth in the education system, in light of the State-induced language restrictions. A Chinese representative spoke immediately after and denied the discrimination faced by Mongolians while confidently promoting China’s policy as one that advocates for education for all minorities. The representative further presented the promotion of a universal language pursued by China as a way to foster the inclusion of youth in the global community. She added that her Mongolian heritage served as an advantage, which stood in direct conflict with the data collected by the SMHRIC.

Ms Mariam Ali, a representative of the Ogaden Youth and Student Association (OYSU), spoke to the limited role that the Ogadeni youth have in participating in public life as a result of State discrimination and violence against the community. Her two-minute speech was interrupted twice by the Ethiopian State, unjustly accusing Ms Ali of speaking on behalf a terrorist organisation. Although the FMI’s chairperson later dismissed this false accusation, the speaker remained disrupted.

Furthermore, the moderator repeatedly emphasised that the FMI was not a place for addressing political agendas. Unfortunately, many of the challenges faced by minorities are a direct result of political policy pursued by States and are therefore political issues. As this is one of the only international fora accessible to these minority representatives, UNPO views it as difficult to ignore the political implications of their minority status. As UNPO’s Ahwazi Arab representative later stated when taking the floor, “it is hard to know that there are young Ahwazis awaiting execution while we sit here and talk about social media”.

Successes of the 10th session of the FMI

Nonetheless, UNPO was impressed by the number of youth actively involved and their drive to participate in the Forum side-events. In addition, the number of interruptions seemed significantly less than from prior years and States faced the same 2-minute time constraint as all other actors. Still, UNPO stands in agreement with the Austrian representative who spoke to the unfair interruption made by Ethiopia and recommended that substantial differences should be addressed by States during their right of reply to allow for more constructive dialogue. 

Peaceful Expression a non-threat to UN Charter

Professor John Packer, who was part of the panel on the second day of the FMI, closed the forum with a statement reaffirming that the peaceful expression of minorities on human rights violations they suffer does by no means constitute a threat to the principles enshrined in the UN charter – not even that of “territorial integrity”. Instead, making the FMI a peaceful arena for discussion would allow for better protection of the world’s minorities’ fundamental rights and liberties and help in fostering more opportunities for them. 

Credit: UNPO


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